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Jo Ann Chaus Janet Holmes Susan Rosenberg Jones Paul Kessel

sympatheticeye

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Portraits in Photography Curated by Susan Keiser

The Howland Cultural Center


sympathetic sym·pa·thet·ic / ˌsimpəˈTHedik/ 1. characterized by, exhibiting, or feeling sympathy toward others emotions; compassionate: a sympathetic listener. 2. acting or affected by, or pertaining to a special affinity, interdependence, or mutual relationship; Physics. noting or pertaining to vibrations, sounds, etc., produced by a body as the direct result of similar vibrations in a different body. Magic. the connection of an image to the thing or person that it represents; the belief that a person or thing can be influenced or changed through an object representing it, well past the termination of contact.


In the beginning photographic portraits were dismissed as impractical. Who could possibly hold still throughout the long exposure time? But the desire to document how a person actually looked, to circumvent a painter’s interpretive vision or lack of skill, was overwhelming. Braces were rigged to hold heads steady. Lighting schemes were devised to highlight certain features. And the Daguerrean Journal advised anxious sitters to strive for an expression of “resolute indifference.”

Flash forward to today’s click and byte culture. Instead of celebrating a handful of life’s milestones, we seem intent on memorializing every pebble along the way. What’s an artist to do? How can one navigate through the hundreds of millions of images streamed everyday? Is it possible to acknowledge that all has already been pictured, yet find a deeply personal expression? For each of these photographers, that journey began in sympathy.

Susan Keiser Curator


Widowed Susan Rosenberg Jones sympathetic sym·pa·thet·ic /ˌsimpəˈTHedik/ 1. characterized by, exhibiting, or feeling sympathy toward others emotions; compassionate: a sympathetic listener.

Like most viewers, I fell for the warmth and gentle humor in Susan Rosenberg Jones’s images of second husband Joel. We live in dark times and their celebration of the coziness and comfort of daily life with a loving partner was a balm for the spirit. After the long illness and death of her first husband, she’d stuck her toe in the digital dating pool, and met him on her second date. Am I the only one this strikes as something of a miracle? As survivors often attest, miracles can be hard to accept uncritically. While unexpected joy suffuses The Second Time Around, it is the universal yet often quirkily personal, the deeply painful yet often banally practical issues and emotions that permeate Widow/er. Behind the portraits and words of her subjects, I sense an artist making sure we don’t forget the hard realities behind a rare happy ending.


Street Shooter Paul Kessel

sympathetic sym·pa·thet·ic /ˌsimpəˈTHedik/ Physics. noting or pertaining to vibrations, sounds, etc., produced by a body as the direct result of similar vibrations in a different body.

At a time when photography seems to know no bounds, Paul Kessel is very clear about what his work is, what it does, and why these distinctions are important. He shoots street. Where portraits were once assumed to reveal the inner truth of the sitter, they are now largely acknowledged to be a collaboration between subject and artist. The exception to this convention is the candid street portrait, which does neither. Street photographers practice the art of being present but not engaged. Like human tuning forks, they await the “decisive moment” when everything in front of their lens comes together— when the formal, compositional elements are in perfect balance with the human, psychological content, all captured at that one moment of anticipatory stillness, the diver’s peaking arc. By refusing to interact with his subjects, Paul Kessel makes portraits that allow— actually insist—that viewers create the narratives, decide on the truths portrayed. Rather than decoding someone else’s story, we are obligated to make up our own.


Emotional Rescue Janet Holmes

sympathetic sym·pa·thet·ic /ˌsimpəˈTHedik/ 2. acting or affected by, or pertaining to a special affinity, interdependence, or mutual relationship.

Rescue work is hard. The price for the satisfaction in placing unwanted pets in forever homes is learning to deal with the often casual cruelty of their former owners. Farm animals present an even greater challenge. It’s one that Janet Holmes accepted years ago when she began volunteering as a caregiver and photographer for animals who people generally think of as “meat” or “eggs.” While for many, it’s already a leap from cats and dogs to sheep and goats, for most of us, saving chickens is just plain nuts. “Why would anyone rescue a chicken?” was the question she asked on the cover of her book about the network of caregivers and their companions that she discovered when looking to place a very sick hen. The answer is in the tender, joyful and funny pictures that comprise this ongoing family album. Through her photographs she has made it hard not to agree that “chickens are people too.”


Sympathetic Magic Jo Ann Chaus

sympathetic sym·pa·thet·ic /ˌsimpəˈTHedik/ Magic. the connection of an image to the thing or person that it represents; the belief that a person or thing can be influenced or changed through an object representing it, well past the termination of contact.

“Finding oneself” used to mean figuring out how one fit into the existing social and biological hierarchies. As illustrated by Jo Ann Chaus, it’s not that simple any more. Since the 60s, scholars have been deconstructing cultural power and privilege. With all preconceived notions in question, we are forced to assemble our identities from the catalog of human parts we find scattered at our feet. The complexity and confusion inherent in this quest are on full display in Chaus’s resonant images. While carefully, almost stolidly composed, they bounce around the deconstructed cultural landscape, referencing eras and icons, always grounded but never landing. Her often slantwise use of costumes and props manifests a belief in the magical power of objects to carry wisdom absorbed in the past into the present. Culture warriors can often be strident. The beauty of these images belies their challenging content.


Jo Ann Chaus Janet Holmes Susan Rosenberg Jones Paul Kessel

sympatheticeye

the

Portraits in Photography Curated by Susan Keiser

January 4–27, 2020 Friday through Monday, 1–5 pm* The Howland Cultural Center 477 Main Street Beacon, NY 12508

© Susan Keiser 2019

Opening Reception January 4, 2:30–4:30 pm

* Exceptions: January 11, 2–5 pm Closed, January 12, 18, and 26

Profile for Scott Lerman

The Sympathetic Eye  

Jo Ann Chaus Janet Holmes Susan Rosenberg Jones Paul Kessel Portraits in Photography Curated by Susan Keiser January 4–27, 2020 Friday thr...

The Sympathetic Eye  

Jo Ann Chaus Janet Holmes Susan Rosenberg Jones Paul Kessel Portraits in Photography Curated by Susan Keiser January 4–27, 2020 Friday thr...

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